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Shooting The Kumagawa Rapids

If you've had enough of shrines, castles, and gardens, consider shooting the Kumagawa Rapids. Compared to wild rivers in the United States, the Kumagawa seems pretty tame; people do the trip not so much for the thrill of the ride but for the scenery of a narrow river valley bordered by wooded hills and for the camaraderie afforded by sitting on tatami in a traditional wooden boat steered by boatmen fore and aft. You can also ride a modern raft guided by a staff of young professionals that goes through slightly rougher water. Reservations are a must for all rides.

The Kumagawa Kudari Kabushiki Company, Shimoshin-machi 333-1 (a 20-min. walk from Hitoyoshi Station; walk straight ahead to the third stoplight and turn left), Hitoyoshi City (tel. 0966/22-5555), offers two different 90-minute routes in its wooden boats. The Calm Course (Seiryu Course) covers 8km (5 miles) of a gentle stretch of the river beginning in Hitoyoshi and ending in Watari. It's offered year-round; December through February, the boats have kotatsu (small, quilt-covered tables with heaters). The cost is ¥2,835 for adults and ¥1,890 for children; winter trips with kotatsu cost ¥3,675 and ¥2,835, respectively.

The Rapids Course (Kyuryu Course) covers 10km (6 1/4 miles), beginning downriver in Watari (a 5-min. walk from Watari Station; turn left out of the station and left again over the tracks) and ending in Kyusendo, and is more exciting and requires more skillful maneuvering, though the river is still only a grade 2. It's offered April through October and costs ¥3,675 for adults and ¥2,100 for children. During rainy season (mid-June to mid-July), this trip is sometimes canceled due to swollen rivers or high winds.

Kumagawa Kudari Kabushiki also offers rafting. The Fighting Course (90 min.) for ¥6,300 begins at Watari Station; from there you'll be taken to Ishochi, where you will put in and raft to Kyusendo. The All Around rafting course (3 hr.) runs from Watari to Kyusendo and costs ¥7,875. Both of these run April through October, include a post-trip soak in an onsen in Kumagawa-sou, and conclude with a return trip via minibus to Watari. Note, however, that children 10 and under and adults 60 and over are not allowed on rafting trips.

You can reach Hitoyoshi by bus from Kumamoto Kotsu Center in about 1 1/2 hours, with fares costing ¥2,300 one-way. There are also six trains a day from Kumamoto Station to Hitoyoshi; the express train takes 1 1/2 hours and costs ¥1,774. Trains and buses connect Watari and Kyusendo with Kumamoto. If you're going onward to Kagoshima, you can return to Hitoyoshi by local train for a bus that will deliver you to Kagoshima Chuo Station in 2 hours for ¥2,070. There is also a retrofitted scenic sightseeing train, the Isaburo-Shinpei, which travels between Hitoyoshi and Yoshimatsu twice a day in a little over an hour, including switchbacks along the way and stops at scenic overlooks. The fare is ¥720, with a surcharge of ¥500 added during peak season (free for holders of Japan Rail Pass). From Yoshimatsu, it then takes 1 hour and 40 minutes by train onward to Kagoshima Chuo Station (fare: ¥1,430). For timetables, contact the JR information office in Kumamoto Station.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.